There was an interesting book published recently about the relationship between modern lifestyles and shortening attention span. I’ve been saying (and observing) for some time that over-exposure to online games and other digital technology reduces attention span and the ability to engage in reflective thought. I’ve noticed it in myself and more worryingly observed it in my kids. But can we do anything about it?
In an interview with author and researcher Maggie Jackson, Wired magazine explores the possibility that our multi-tasking lifestyles have led to an institutionalised culture of distraction that damages the ability to concentrate and think creatively. Jackson reveals that there is sound research into how brain physiology behaves in response to multiple stimuli and activity overload. Humans are evolving to the new environment, but perhaps not in a good way, she suggests.
So what happens when today’s kids, who are growing up immersed in technology from a very early age, are called upon in the future to demonstrate complex deductive thought over extended periods at exam time or in a stressful work environment? Writing, planning, conversing and being artistically creative do not deliver the same instantaneous level of gratification that scoring points in an online battle quest does, for example. Will the next generation be damaged by early over-exposure to digital technology?
In many respects, digital technology has made the world smaller and more navigable. On the other hand, rewiring our behaviour can have an isolating effect. We are constantly looking for the next hit of endorphin that comes from a new email, a fresh Tweet or another enemy to slay in our favourite virtual world. But sometimes that buzz comes at a price to our real world relationships and creative power.